Elizabeth A. Hawksworth is a published poet and historical fiction writer as well as a prominent blogger on topics of feminism, body positivity, fatphobia, writing, nannying, social justice, and spirituality. She is bold in writing about issues of ultimate concern when remaining silent and unnoticed would be, in the moment, easier. Here is part of her story.
A few hours north of Sarnia, Ontario, there is a quiet place nestled in a forest. Built with rustic logs, smelling like pine pitch, and surrounded by acres of misty trees, this small building stands, institutional and peaceful; utilitarian and somehow unique. In its natural surroundings, staring at a painting of the Baby Jesus, I found God.
Prayer, for me, has been a way to get through everyday life. I pray for health. I pray to be a better person. I pray for my family, my friends. I pray for things I want, things I don’t deserve, things I’m desperate about, things I can’t deal with. It’s not a fancy prayer. It’s often a mantra, repeated over and over, sometimes under my breath, sometimes out loud, sometimes mouthed in public places, and sometimes earnestly in the dark. And I pray every night, without fail, before I can close my eyes and sleep. I have to touch base. I have to let Him know. I need You. Please help me.
In that church retreat, hidden in the woods, I learned how to pray for more than just myself. I unlocked the talent I had all along – the talent of being able to use my words to change the world for the better. And I never felt closer to God, or more powerful with Him through me than I did then – creating creeds, weaving poetry, sharing with everyone my own personal faith, placing my feet on the path to social justice. If you had asked me then, I would have told you that I didn’t think I would ever be able to part from my relationship with God.
How things change.
I was badly wounded by the Church when I was a teenager. Shy, uncertain, and angry, I was struggling with my own sexuality and my sense of being. Holding hands with God, or so I thought, I faced the people who, also holding hands with God, told me that I didn’t belong. That I would burn in hell. That I was a sinner, a deliberate sinner, one who was so full of pride and bravado and hubris and lies, that I would never be welcome unless I changed who I was at the core. I had grown up solid in my belief that God makes us in His perfect image, and never makes mistakes. Now, I wasn’t sure if I was wrong, or if they were, but my hurt overwhelmed my faith.
I went back at 18, denying who I was. I joined a church of beauty and majesty, of tradition as old as time, and restrictions worse than any other church I’d ever been to. Was it punishment for the supposed sin of who I thought I was? To this day, I can’t answer that. All I know is that everywhere I turned, I found leaders, church members, even the Bible itself, it seemed, telling me that the person I am would never be good enough for God.
So I left. And I tried to forget.
I’m a rational person, most of the time. I also hold grudges, long after I should. And the hurt faded into twinges and then roared back to life in explosive, fiery anger. I wanted to hurt the Church the way it had hurt me. I wanted to hurt God. I wanted to burn in hell the way they said, just so that I could be myself without pretense, so I could live in sin without consequence and guilt.
And inside, I cried out for the God I knew in that quiet forest retreat. I begged Him to help me. I pushed Him away with both hands while simultaneously crying for Him in the night. And to His credit, He hasn’t let me go, though most days, I continue to angrily push and push and push, as hard as I can. He has forgiven me and continues to forgive me, despite all of my anger and moral failings, despite my hurt and my pride. He has quietly proven over and over that He thinks I am good enough for Him.
Knowing this, I suspect that one day, I will heal completely from my scars and from my open, bleeding wounds, the way that even the biggest wounds do heal. The scars will always hurt a little, but they won’t always be open and raw, ready to bleed again at another article about Christians saying “God hates fags”, or someone telling me that you can’t be Christian and gay.
But here’s the thing about healing. When you forgive someone, you don’t do it for them – not really. They benefit from it. They may think that you are doing them a favour. And maybe, part of healing is to acknowledge that you acted wrongly, too, even if at the time, you don’t think you did. Maybe part of it is to be like God, and not push away your fellow human, even if that fellow human has done cutting, horrible things to your psyche and to your sense of self.
The thing about healing is that forgiveness is mostly for you. It’s to reach out with your own humanity and be the bigger person. It doesn’t mean you forget, and it doesn’t mean that you have to draw that person back into your heart. What it does mean is that where the rushing, raging rivers have broken the bridge of faith, forgiveness helps to place new planks, to tie the knots back into the ropes. Where the bridge has rotted in places, forgiveness places brand new materials to make your bridge stronger than ever before. Where the bridge is shaky, forgiveness helps to steady it so that when you walk across it and try to meet God on the other side, it’s not so hard and scary to cross it.
Because when it comes to healing, it might take awhile. It might take a long time to rebuild your bridge. And I’m not saying that someone isn’t going to come along and say cutting things that will throw it into disrepair. I’ve rebuilt my bridge many times now . . . and I’ve begged God to help me find the strength to do it again.
Your bridge isn’t just to God. Your bridge is to your fellow humans, as well. The ones that put up walls to keep others out – your bridge goes to their door and invites them to come and meet you in the middle. The ones that tell you you’re not welcome – your bridge goes to them and tells them that they are welcome to come and belong with you. And the ones that meet you with hatred – your bridge shows them that the easier path is love.
Because maybe the place you’re all trying to reach is that little church retreat in the woods, with the whispering leaves and the distant rush of the many creeks. Maybe the path you all want to walk is the shady wide dirt path with the dappled sunlight through the trees, that wide and welcoming path that has benches to rest on and clear pools to drink from. Maybe the paths we choose are inevitably the harder ones because the stony paths teach you what smooth footing feels like, and we have to learn, in order to grow.
Maybe the pain and the blood are something we all experience, even when we’re the ones wielding the swords that hurt. And maybe when it comes to healing, you find it in the silence and the dark, the pleas and the desperation, the fact that when you couldn’t walk anymore, He carried you – and carries you still.
Maybe when it comes to healing, it becomes the easier path to take – broken bridge, and all.
Does God take sides? Does God cheer for Israel's victories, or cheer for Israel's losses? Does God pump his fist when Palestine succeeds, or weep when Palestine stumbles? Is God on the sidelines of Gaza, rooting for his team to win? If God were mere man perhaps the Gaza Strip would be one great football field and God's whole life would rise and fall according to the victory of his team. The Christians say God became flesh and dwelt among us They say God became mere man. They also say the God-Man's great victory was accepting death on a cross that others might live. But if Israel and Palestine's men keep taking one another's lives in God's name who will be left to bear his cross? Perhaps the Second Coming that the Christians await with bated breath (as smart phones offer updates about their team) will be another Incarnation, a child born in the midst of blood and turmoil and rage. Maybe the Second Coming will be a child born of love spilling over between a child of Israel and a child of Palestine Maybe, instead of a cross there will be a stand silent and gentle and unwavering Palestinian hand in Israeli hand the fruit of their living bodies God's own child, swelling the mother's belly: an invitation to end life no more.
What will it take for the beloved children of God to perceive that the people they murder are the beloved children of God to understand that the people they hate are their sisters and brothers and fathers and mothers and daughters and sons? What will it take for Jews and Muslims and Christians and other religious people and anti-religious people to quit taking sides to say "It is done"? Will it take a new Yeshua? A new martyr? A new cross? Will it take a wise mother among many wise mothers who learned long ago that only love can yield a victory? Will it take a woman among many women who has seen the futility of this fight all her life to rise up and teach the foolish men what they refuse to learn? God, how long before you touch the hearts of the children who think you take sides? How long before you assure them that they are equally, infinitely loved? How long before they cease their fire and offer open arms of sorrow, repentance, forgiveness? What do you mean to whisper that this assurance this peace this love this transformation of the hardest of hearts in Gaza begins with my own heart?
What sort of God do you get when the images you have don't look a thing like the person you see in the mirror? What do you get when they do?
What does sacred encounter look like when a person no longer practices religiosity or believes in God?
When religion's beliefs or dogmas are inadequate or unjust, what might keep a prophetic person or community rooted in religiosity?
I'm pleased to present Life. Love. Liturgy., my newly released collection of short stories and poetry, available online for purchase. In it I explore the processes of crashing against, opening up, dismissing, and broadening prescriptions of God and religion. ~~~ This book spent twenty months in gestation after being crowdfunded by many generous donors on Kickstarter. Over those nearly two years, I unexpectedly ventured away from the Roman Catholic Church and eventually found myself in the Episcopal Church (as a member of a Benedictine Canon community), with many stops in between. The order in which the pieces are presented is the order in which they were written, in order to honor the ways in which my own journey shaped this collection. Each piece in this book is written in honor of someone. The first piece, Emmaus, is written in honor of my friend, Rev. Cody Unterseher, who died unexpectedly in April 2012. His theological courage, his pastoral compassion, and his untimely death compelled me to shake off my fears and take up my vocation as a writer about matters of ultimate concern. I owe a debt of gratitude to many people, but especially to Cody. If you are interested in interviewing me about Life. Love. Liturgy.for your blog or other communication outlet, please contact me.
In my almost thirty-two years as a Roman Catholic, I have never been prouder of any pope. Granted, I've only encountered three in my lifetime, but I am also a student of Christian history. You stand out among your predecessors.
You have rocked the entire world with your embodied proclamations of the good news. You kiss the wounds of the sick. You share tables with those who have neither tables of their own nor food to put on them. You warn your clergy again and again against the glamour of clericalism. Your love is abundant, like Christ's was and is, and I have seen it have a multiplying effect, even (perhaps especially) among non-Roman Catholics.
I am tremendously grateful to God for your faithful, living witness to the teachings of Jesus. Your heart is wide open, and I feel quite certain that if I happened to walk into your midst, you would smile and greet me with the warmth of an old friend, and I would greet you likewise.
I need to confess something to you. On February 16, 2014, God willing, I will leave my cloak of Roman Catholic identity behind in order to be received as a member of the Episcopal Church.
Despite having spent my entire life as a devoted (albeit flawed) Roman Catholic, I cannot remain Roman Catholic any longer. Because despite the gospel of Jesus you now proclaim miraculously through your very body, and despite the many ways in which I encounter Christ's presence through your holy example, I'm afraid there is at least one way in which you, like most if not all of your predecessors, have failed to hear the voice of God and heed it: in the calling of thousands upon thousands of women around the world to ordained ministry.
I was able to name my own God-given call to ordained ministry thirteen years ago. I was still a teenager then. I am close with several Roman Catholic women who share the same call. Yet you, like your papal predecessors, have dismissed even the possibility that women might be called to ordained ministry.
I don't understand this hardness of heart. Not from you.
What I do understand is how hard it can be to hear God's earnest whispers when so much of one's culture screams against it. My favorite psalm is Psalm 51, because it is a perpetual invitation to be changed, transformed, turned around:
Create in me a clean heart, o God. ... Then will I teach transgressors Thy ways and sinners shall be converted unto Thee.
I suspect this psalm is as dear to you as it is to me. Please, then, let God's whispers reach your ear through my meager words: God calls some women to serve as ordained ministers. That the Roman Catholic hierarchy refuses to acknowledge this (or even to discuss it) is gravely sinful. It is presumptuous to deny God's calling to those whom God has chosen.
Please, for God's sake, don't allow whatever is lacking in me cause you to be deaf to what God is speaking to you through me in this moment. If anyone with the authority to effect gospel change in the Roman Catholic Church can hear this prophetic word, I believe you can.
Please, open your heart and listen for the sake of my daughters, who will grow up in the midst of your legacy even if they never set foot in a Roman Catholic church.
Please, listen. Listen because you know better than almost anyone that God speaks prophetically through those who are marginalized, women included.
Please, I beg you from the bottom of my heart, listen--allow yourself to be importuned by me, just like the judge was importuned by the widow, or like Jesus was importuned by the woman begging for scraps. You and I both know what happened in those latter two instances. If Jesus' mind could be changed, surely yours can.
I believe that the world-wide turning of hearts to God, if you listened in this one way and acted accordingly, would be a miracle of biblical proportion.
With blessings and love in the One who creates, redeems, and sanctifies all the world,
M. Kate Allen
This letter originally appeared at parentwin.com, where I am a regular contributor on topics of religion. The letter went viral among my Facebook friends and received more discussion and shares there than anything else I've every written, anywhere. A friend of mine encouraged me to mail it to Pope Francis. I did. If he responds, I will share his response here. (Unless he asks me not to.)
While sipping a hot cup of Ten Ren King's tea and chatting with a dear friend from the San Francisco Bay Area on Facebook, my friend wrote this to me: "kate, I am so happy for you - it seems your life is developing in amazing ways" (NB: The editor in me would like to capitalize and punctuate that sentence, but the friend in me knows better.) My friend is right, you know. I'm struck by how very much my life has changed in a very, very short period of time. I started this blog/site two years ago today. I wrote this:
Hurrah! Thanks to the inspiration of a dear friend of mine, Noach, I have planted the seed of this blog (and broader website). I hope it will yield many vibrant, lush, delicious fruits, and perhaps yield some long-lasting connections in the process.
Is it any surprise that the same friend who helped me plant this seed of a website and blog is now bursting with joy for me at what has risen up from the dark, fertile soil of my dreams and yearning? I look back at the woman I was in 2012--a first time mom; an office manager at a small synagogue; a frustrated, well-educated, sad, and increasingly jaded Roman Catholic--and I see someone who knew that 2012 was a beginning rather than an end. I had no real idea of where the road would lead, but I knew I would be creating the road for myself as I went along, and that I would visit some unusual and unfamiliar places along the way. My mantra lately, when folks ask me how I like Arizona, is, "I never thought I'd like living in the desert." But I do. My family is happy here. My husband has a job in which he thrives. I'm able to be at home with my girls for now, do fun-to-me gigs, and write to my heart's content. And finally, at long last, I get to be a both-feet-all-the-way-in member of a religious community in which I am valued, period--no strings attached, no hidden agendas, no glass ceiling. I love this community so much that my heart aches, as if it might burst. It's like being home again, but it's more than that. I'm not just part of the beauty that is my new community; I'm becoming a leader in bringing forth that beauty. Me. A woman. A thirty-something from Ohio who very early on learned to shut up and take it when something or someone wasn't good enough, even when what was good enough was within my reach, and even when what wasn't good enough was sanctioned by my religious leaders. Two years later, in 2014, I find myself in the midst of imperfect, beautiful people, and just by being my own imperfect self, I am amazing. I am vibrant. I am what I was searching for two years ago. It just took being planted in a fertile garden, free of choking weeds, for me to see myself stretched up tall and completely radiant for the first time.
Yesterday the command was to rejoice, but today I remember that it is still Advent, and I am still waiting for the light to dawn. A friend of mine--not a close one, but one for whom I cared very much--died today. He had blood cancer. He was one of the honorees of my Team in Training walk team back in 2009. He was about my age. Death is not my favorite companion. I don't like Death's bitter wine or unmoist bread. I could do without the heaviness of Death's blanket and the chill of Death's hearth. I don't want to see who dwells in the shadows under Death's roof. When Death enters my midst, everything becomes painfully sharp, and I ache. Where is redemption in the endless moment that is fresh grief?
An image of a 14-year old girl holding a sign recently went viral. The sign said: "Jesus isn't a dick, so keep him out of my vagina." I assume this young woman was hoping to be noticed, and she definitely was.
Over at a tumblr page called Public Shaming, the latest article there features a picture of the girl holding her sign as well as internet images from Facebook and Twitter chronicling negative reactions to her sign. The reactions were varied in their accusations. What got my attention was the overall prevailing assumption that because this girl made a statement about vaginas (one that clearly relates to recent actions by legislators to make abortion access more difficult), she must be sexually active (and, more particularly, must be promiscuous or otherwise a slut/whore/prostitute).
A secondary assumption that caught my eye was that this young woman was in some way taking the Lord's name in vain. (As the author of the tumblr page notes, however, she's saying Jesus isn't a dick, rather than saying he is--a rather clever part of her double entendre, in my opinion.)
Christian conservatives are behind much of this negativity. Sometimes I wonder how I keep company in the same religious tradition as people such as these. How is it possible that I claim to follow in the path of the same Christ they claim to follow? How can I call myself a Christian when thisis what Christians are like?
Søren Kierkegaard, a devout Christian and famed existentialist philosopher of the 19th century, distinguished between what he called "Christendom" and following Christ, where the former had to do with falling in line with the polite (or, in this century, impolite) opinions and practices of Christian society, and the latter had to do with discerning for oneself, from one's own prayer and study of scripture and tradition, what it meant to take up Christ's cross in one's own circumstances. Kierkegaard would not look kindly on the religious right of 21st century America, I imagine--he would probably denounce it as full of unkindness, full of fear about change, full of unwillingness to imagine the world from the perspective of someone as politically insignificant as a 14-year-old girl.
To debunk the power of this girl's Christendom-threatening message, many right-wing Christians who are anti-abortion and pro-vagina-legislation are attempting, in their social networking comments, to discredit her by slut-shaming her. What is slut-shaming? "Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog" sums it up well: "Slut-shaming, also known as slut-bashing, is the idea of shaming and/or attacking a woman or a girl for being sexual, having one or more sexual partners, acknowledging sexual feelings, and/or acting on sexual feelings." To acknowledge one's sexuality (in this girl's case, her vagina) is to be a slut, according to the slut-shamer. Unfortunately, that's not just a logical fallacy. It's a non-sequitur made by a politically powerful crowd, America's modern-day Christendom, to rape a non-powerful person of the most powerful tool she has: her right to speak. Obviously, if she's a slut, she cannot have any authority--at least not in this God-fearing Christian country--to talk about vaginas or what goes in and out of them. (But really, when does any woman have the right in a God-fearing country to talk about vaginas? Vaginas and the people who have them only lead to sin unless God-fearing non-vagina-bearing-people are in charge of them! Right?)
As a Christian particularly and a religious person generally, I am dismayed by the way in which right-wing Christians are lashing out at this young woman. Those Christians don't represent me. More importantly, they don't represent Christ. They represent a "Christian" crowd that apparently prides itself on being no less chauvanistic than the most chauvanistic elements of the Bible, rather than practicing compassion as Christ did.
I challenge my fellow Christians to take a second look at this young woman--without resorting to slut-shaming--and see what it is that she's driving at. Why would she want to keep the anti-abortion legislation of American Christendom "out of her vagina"? What might be at stake for a 14-year old girl in 2013? Imagine for a moment that she's not religion-bashing or Christ-bashing or pro-promiscuity or anti-babies. What key message does she bear about her sexuality, her ability to bear children, and her vagina? What does she have to say that religious people in this country need an open heart to hear?
Did you know that this holiday was originally celebrated as National Women's Day, established by the Socialist Party of America in 1909? Did you know that 15,000 women marched in New York City the year before to demand the right to vote, shorter hours, and better pay? Did you know that Clara Zetkin, the leader of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in Germany brought about the idea of an International Women's Day in 1910?
I didn't. I didn't even remember this morning that today was International Women's Day--not until I saw a post from a former student colleague of mine who's finishing her doctoral dissertation in systematic theology.
In 1909, there was no such thing as a female rabbi--in 2013, I'm the assistant for one.
Alas, in 2013, a Roman Catholic woman is still regarded Thomistically as only partly human--and this idea manifests itself, among other ways, in the persistent refusal of the upper echelons of the Roman Catholic hierarchy even to talk about the possibility of ordaining women to ministry.
This is the form of sexist oppression I personally face each day. And to think that I'm one of the fortunate ones! Indeed, I'm a citizen of one of the most privileged countries in the world. As a woman with pale skin, my privilege increases even more. I've got it good.
And yet--I don't. Women don't. Women with dark pigmentation don't. Women who have male genitals (i.e. trans-women) definitely don't. Even in this supposedly great nation, we are underpaid, undervalued, underemployed, under-respected. Under. Supine. It's sinful, and it's far worse in other parts of the world.
Clara Zetkin said that this day would be a day for women to name their demands. Here are mine, on behalf of my sister women, my daughters, and their daughters:
~I demand, first and foremost, that women be treated equally to men in religious contexts.
~I demand that women be treated equally to men in the workplace.
~I demand that the voices of women be heard first when societal policies that impact women are being discussed.
~I demand that all women, especially those most marginalized, be treated with honor and respect by all men and privileged women.
~I demand that all those who experience privilege on a daily basis, from white men in power to men of any color to women who are wealthy and educated, examine their daily actions for the ways in which they participate in and promote the systematic oppression of women, and that having recognized their wrongdoing, they change their ways and make amends.
I pray that I will be able to see the ways in which I have participated in this oppression so I may begin to remedy it. In the meantime, I speak out with the power of my voice, knowing that when I speak, people listen.
Finally, I thank all the women before me who spoke up so that my voice could be amplified. Sister women, you have done so, so well. Thank you.
The Rabbi at the shul where I work, Rabbi SaraLeya Schley, wrote a prayer which she offered at last Friday's Shabbat service. I share it here with the hope that you will join in her prophetic, poignant prayer.
A Prayer for Divine Aid during the Pillar of Defense (Amud Anan) Initiative in Israel, based on the Ana B'khoach - offered during Kabbalat Shabbat on 11/16/12
The Ana B'khoach prayer is attributed to R. Nehuniah b. Hakanah - based on the mystical 42 letter name of the Divine, this name is related to the creation and thus is an intercessory prayer. Traditional Hebrew and literal English translations of the source lines are provided at the beginning of each paragraph.
אָנָּא בְּכֹֽחַ גְּדֻלַּת יְמִינְךָ תַּתִּיר צְרוּרָה. Please with the strength of Your right hand’s greatness, release the entanglements. Once again we Pray to Your loving kindness, to guide us, to find a way to untie the tangled up mess we have gotten ourselves into. You know that this earth-world always is full of suffering. Somehow we become numb to the suffering. And, then, our hearts are wrenched open when the Children of Abraham trade rockets and bombs, destabilizing the fragile accords that hold the Land of the Prophets from self-destruction.
קַבֵּל רִנַּת עַמְּךָ, שַׂגְּבֵֽנוּ, טַהֲרֵֽנוּ, נוֹרָא. Receive the song of Your people, strengthen us, purify us, Awesome One. O Sublime One, we want to sing to you again, together, in Hebrew and Arabic and English and Aramaic and Farsi. Awesome One, cleanse us of fear of violence and fear of each other.
נָא גִבּוֹר, דּוֹרְשֵׁי יִחוּדְךָ, כְּבָבַת שָׁמְרֵם. Please, Strong One, guard those who seek Your Oneness like the pupil of an eye. Strong One, care for each of your creatures who are terrified: the thousands of Israeli’s huddling in shelters fearing rocket attacks; the thousands of Gazans, cowering, seeking to find distance from their homes and mosques as bombs approach the rocket launchers hidden nearby.
בָּרְכֵם, טַהֲרֵם, רַחֲמֵם, צִדְקָתְךָ תָּמִיד גָּמְלֵם. Bless them, cleans them, have compassion upon them, Your righteousness always recompenses them. Bless us all. We need Your love to wash us clean. Let justice pour over us like waves; let righteousness flow like a moving stream. Let a knowing of Your Oneness and our profound interconnectedness fill the hearts of everyone - in the Middle East, in Washington D.C, at the UN, everywhere.
חֲסִין קָדוֹשׁ, בְּרוֹב טוּבְךָ, נַהֵל עֲדָתֶֽךָ. Powerful and Holy Divinity guide Your congregation with Your expansive goodness. Guide us through this confusing and conflicted time with Your goodness, so we not default into pro-them and pro-us thinking. Clearly we need Sacred Guidance in how to respond from our highest selves, to see the suffering in each other, and work as a united community to mitigate this pain.
יָחִיד גֵּאֶה, לְעַמְּךָ פְּנֵה, זוֹכְרֵי קְדֻשָּׁתֶֽךָ. Exalted Unity, turn toward Your people, those who note Your sanctity. Unity, turn toward all Your peoples, help us remember that, as Yisra-El, as Jews, our directive is to live as a holy people, a kingdom of the priesthood.
שַׁוְעָתֵֽנוּ קַבֵּל, וּשְׁמַע צַעֲקָתֵֽנוּ, יוֹדֵֽעַ תַּעֲלֻמוֹת. Accept our outcries, hear our shouting, You know the hidden dimensions. Receive our supplications, Hear the shouts of all - as you heard Ishmael’s silent cry "ba-asher who sham" - from exactly where he sat alone in the desert, dying of thirst because his mother could not see the well of life-giving potential that was waiting to be seen nearby. Help us find that hidden solution that will seem obvious once it has become known. There are so many secrets, so much hidden from an ordinary person’s knowledge - we depend on You to see though all the veils of deception and teach us to seek right thought, right action and right speech.
בָּרוּךְ שֵׁם כְּבוֹד מַלְכוּתוֹ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד. Blessed be the Name of Your dominion’s glory forever. Blessed be Your Honor throughout time and space. Let Your Annanei HaKavod, your clouds of glory, the Amud he-Anan, the pillar of cloud revert back to its original source as the guiding beacon that led the Israelites as they wondered in the wilderness. We are all wondering in a wilderness of confusion and pain. This would be a good time for You to show up with a miracle.
Last night a friend of mine from one of the social networks posed the following:
So here's a question - as a non-religious person, it's hard for me to understand the pull of this particular church. If you are not supportive of the Catholic Church's bad practices that go against the teachings of Jesus (as I would describe them, and as I suspect you might), then why is it important to be in that denomination? Is it a hope to make change from within? How is your staying in the Catholic faith good for you, and good for those oppressed by the bad practices of the Catholic hierarchy?
I offer the following in hopes of clarifying for her, for others, and for myself, just why it is that I choose not to relinquish my catholic identity.
A couple of months ago, I had a life-changing experience in an Islamic gathering place filled mostly with Jews, a symposium hosted by the local Unitarian Seminary. I realized in that place that G-d was indeed calling me, and calling me to much more than I'd ever realized. "Multi-religious identity" is the phrase that stuck with me, and I scampered off to my local Unitarian Church to experience multi-religious identity in action. I seriously considered enrolling in the local U.U. seminary, knowing that such a radically welcoming religious tradition would fit my heart's call perfectly.
Of course, I make plans, and then G-d thwarts them. I found out I was pregnant in mid-October, and all ideas of seminary, of finally fulfilling my 11-year call to ministry, went out the window again. (My family comes first, and that's the way I prefer it.)
When I realized I wasn't going to pursue seminary right away, or perhaps ever, I took a look at what I was missing when I went to the UU church. I missed two things: the ritual and the story. I don't miss the rampant bigotry or bullying, but the liturgy and scripture have shaped my life for the last thirty years. I've also been to half a handful of catholic churches in which the gospel--the good news--is truly proclaimed. Radical inclusion, in these two or three places, is the rule, not the exception. They operate as the rest of the Catholic Church should. They are what make catholicism resonate so strongly for me.
I also look at the people who most inspire me--Jewish and Muslim leaders--and I see that they have not ceased to be Jewish or Muslim simply because of the evil of some people in their respective traditions. They live their traditions rightly and beautifully, and they set an example for not only people in their traditions, but everyone around them.
That is the sort of catholic I am--not someone who kowtows to the pope (because the pope and the hierarchy are completely dispensable, as far as I'm concerned), but someone who cleaves to catholic story and ritual and sees her fellow creatures in richer, brighter hues as a result.
I am catholic with a small c--"universal" is what the word means--rather than Catholic with a big C (which is what I was when I was quietly obsessed, like so many Catholics are, with avoiding the punishments of speaking too loudly about what one really thinks). I embrace all people, whether they are religious or anti-religious or somewhere in between. I see wisdom in all ways that embrace deep and abiding love, which is the great gift the UU church has given me.
I am catholic, not because of the hierarchy's permission or lack thereof, but because I have been called by Christ, that sacred, wonderful manifestation of G-d. This is where I feel most at home--not because of the bullies, but because of the lovers. And I will remain catholic until, somehow, the stories cease to speak to me, and the holy practice of radical table fellowship and of washing the feet of others ceases to touch me.
I won't leave just because the leadership structure and many of its members are corrupt. I am no cave-dweller. I will stay as long as I find my deepest hope in the catholic (again, small c) way of being religious. And, thanks to the UU's and my Jewish and Muslim inspirations, I will be a catholic who harbors no fear. G-d will never detest me for prophetically crying out against injustice. Quite the opposite. I, unlike the vast majority of my Catholic friends, am in a place in which speaking out costs me nothing that I would regret losing. So I find myself in the position of a prophet. It's not what I expected, but I am happy to be able to plow the way for holy change in the RCC and other Christian denominations.
Bottom line? Merely being Catholic would not satisfy my heart's yearnings, but being catholic does.
Their annual water ceremony took place today, and I got to take part. It was like communion, except we were giving, not receiving; processing forward from the outer aisles rather than the inner one; returning through the inner aisle rather than the outer ones. This water will be used for child dedications/baptisms throughout the coming year. The whole service revolved around water images, including the story at the beginning involving raindrops personified. One of the raindrops was brave enough to leave his tree branch and fall alone into a bucket for the sake of the parched ground below, even though all the other drops thought he was nuts and refused to join him. The earth grew desperately dry, the flowers becoming pale and limp, the grass turning brown. After a while, another drop beheld the lonely drop in the bucket and decided to join him. Another drop saw this and followed suit, then another, then another, till the bucket was brimming and another bucket was needed. After many buckets were filled, a great wind came and blew over all the buckets, drenching the parched earth. Before long, the wilted flowers stood up again in vibrant hues, and the grass was once again green with life.
Afterward, there was a scheduled "information session" for newcomers, and I chatted with one of the new ministers as I waited for the session to begin. By the time it began, the pastor, the minister I was talking to, and a church member were joining in; two more people also wandered in as we sat talking. Each person introduced herself/himself to me and told me a bit about how s/he came to be in that place, in that faith tradition. Then they invited me to tell them about myself, and I did.
I began to tell them about my educational background. It was easy enough, at first. Then it happened. All the anger and sadness of being denied my call to ministry by the sexism of the Roman Catholic Church, my church, came up too high, and it spilled out of me in hot tears and jagged breaths. Before I knew it or could contain it I was sobbing without any ability to stop. I kept apologizing, but they listened, and they listened some more, and I felt as though each one of them was holding me perfectly in her/his arms, just letting me be there as I told my terrible, painful truth.
A part of me scolded myself when I was on my way out of the parking lot a little while later--scolded myself for allowing myself to be so vulnerable in the midst of strangers. But the stronger part of me stopped the scolding voice, making it clear that I'm done hiding my heart when it comes to matters of faith. Those people were there for me--a stranger--in a most tender moment. I won't dishonor their presence to me by claiming that opening of my heart to them was inappropriate.
In this church I've found living temples of my merciful God. They exhibit, in concentrated form, the qualities that I have been drawn to in every community of faith I've ever been part of: hospitality, generosity, vision, prophetic presence, dedication, and abounding love.
I feel like I've come home. Not that the Roman Catholicism isn't my home--it is. But my home is also much larger, much broader, much more inclusive, and loving in many more ways than the home I've always known. And that is breathtaking, world-shattering, and heart-opening. I am ready to step outside the gate and find my way anew.
I was scheduled to proclaim the second reading today at my Roman Catholic parish. Yesterday evening I finally sat down, pulled up the US Conference of Catholic Bishops website, and clicked into the scripture readings scheduled for today. I scrolled down.
What I found for my lection was Ephesians 5:21-32 (I copy the publicly available NIV translation as found on biblegateway.com, since the US Catholic Bishops do not allow copying of the New American Bible translation without their written permission): 21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing[b] her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”[c] 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.
Then I read the Gospel lection.
The pericope chosen by the authors of the lectionary was this passage, also presented below in NIV translation, John 6:60-69: 60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit[a] and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”
66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. 67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Before you are tempted to lecture me about scriptural meaning, understand that I have read the Bible in its entirety. I've read and compared numerous translations of varying authority; I've studied ancient manuscripts on which the translations are based in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin; I've done numerous hermeneutical studies of various passages of scripture; and I've had over half a dozen graduate and doctoral level courses in scripture. I know my scripture. I've also known these particular passages for a long time.
But last night, reading these two readings in succession, I perceived a very clear hermeneutical slant on the part of the men who strung these passages together for the twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time.
The hermeneutical slant woven for a 21st century audience says, in no uncertain terms, that women are to submit to men; and if this "teaching" is too "hard," if it "offends," then not only do the offended not believe (in) Jesus, but they are Jesus' betrayers, the ones who will turn their backs, no longer follow him, and (by implication) shout for his crucifixion.
Let's pull back the threadbare veil of meaning that the fashioners of the lectionary have laid on today's readings so we can be quite clear: women who reject submission to men in 2012, whether as wives to husbands or Catholic women to male clerics, are against Christ. Anathema sit.
Now, allow me to pull back my veil and be even clearer: I will no longer stand by in the quiet shadows as the sin of sexism is thrust again and again against the women of the Roman Catholic Church.
The claim that women are or should in any way be inferior to men is evil. It is this claim that perpetuates the abuse of women by men in every imaginable rape, from rape of the body to rape of legitimate calls to ordained ministry.
This must end NOW.
Roman Catholic clergy, all of you who homilized on anything other than the horrific sexism of today's string of readings, you should be ashamed.
I challenge every ordained member of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, from the lowliest deacon to the bishop of Rome, to examine his conscience, to make a public apology for the glut of sexism in which the hierarchy has so long engaged, and to make a public call for women to be restored to their rightful place of holy dignity--side by side with men, rather than in hierarchical relation to them.
I suppose I owe the authors of the lectionary a thank-you, however. Were it not for today's readings, I might never have had the shattering revelation that my relationship with the divine cannot be contained within my Roman Catholic faith. My faith is bigger, more embracing, more inclusive, and more perceptive than the religious sphere the Roman Catholic hierarchy attempts to dictate.
So thank you, lectionary creators. Thank you for reminding me that a whole world of religious experience and holy encounters with the divine exist beyond your meager vision. Thank you for showing me your golden calf in all its splendor, that I might be moved to break the tablets in my hands and ascend the mountain again to hear God's word anew.
Ibrahim Farajaje, the Provost at SKSM, had this to say at the closing of his drash (sermon/reflection) for the opening ritual:
So, Come, Come, Lovers of Leaving, Come across the threshold into living in the differences; So, Come, Come: Leave limited consciousness to be plunged into the Ocean of Oneness; So, Come, Come: Leave attachment to limited notions of self; So, Come, Come to become Microcosm and Macrocosm; So, Come, Come: Leave behind notions of 'us' and 'them'; So, Come, Come: Let us build sacred, vibrant, fun, deliciously organic, (g)locally-grown and sustainable communities in the Caravan of LOVE!
And both Ibrahim and Reb Zalman talked about multi-religious identity. Can you just sit with that for a minute?
You mean I don't have to be merely Christian? I can be both Jewish and Christian? I can be Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist? Not in the sense taking on any of the exclusivistic aspects of these traditions, but in the sense of authentically embracing and living by their holy texts, images and names for God, and spiritual practices that invite illumination, deepening, and unity/love among all. To be multi-religious (wow!) is to break down my exclusivistic faith constructs so I can reach out fully with deep awareness, embracing and accepting my neighbor as the embodied revelation of the divine. If that isn't holy practice, tell me what is.
You know what? We only get one shot at this set of circumstances we're placed in. Every choice we make has an unknowable (but imaginable) ripple effect.
Ask me my creed:
Will I choose to embrace only Roman Catholic identity any longer? No.
Will I reject Roman Catholic or Christian identity? No.
Will I spend the next years of my life seeking out the best living spiritual teachers there are from each of the world's major religions so I can sit at their feet and learn from them? Yes.
It's a new day, my friends. I shed the shackles with which my long-time faith binds me so I can put on the power to love that my faith has always offered me. And my faith will be broader and richer and more diverse than I ever imagined it could be. Starting today. Well, starting yesterday.
I went up to my Bay Area bestie after the talk was over and gave him a long, tight hug. "Thank you!" he said. He pulled back and looked at me and said, "Wow, that really had an impact on you, didn't it?" I nodded and my eyes got all wet and he said, "You're shaking."
Reb Zalman and Ibrahim Baba and all the people present in that sacred place rattled me, shattered me, made a new way possible for me.
If you want me, I'll be picking my way through the rubble, moving forward in amazing, radiant, warmth-imparting light. <3